Moby-Dick is a slippery book | Letter

Philip Hoare offers further insight into sperm whales and ponders Herman Melville’s intentions

I was delighted to read Peter Eiseman-Renyard’s response (Spermaceti hand rubs, Letters, 3 August) to my piece on the subversiveness of Moby-Dick (30 July). His own playfulness speaks to the multifarious meanings of a slippery book. But I must correct him on behalf of the animals. It is their noses, not their foreheads, that are suffused with what humans called sperm oil. This waxy stuff, once believed to be the whale’s semen, has nothing to do with casein, as Mr Eiseman-Renyard states, but has bioacoustical properties that enable sperm whales to communicate one with another.

And as for Melville’s intentions, I think we may safely say he was rejoicing in double entendre, as he does throughout his book, in wondrously orgasmic proportions. “Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me.”
Philip Hoare
Southampton

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